Sunday, July 26, 2009

Big Pot of Chai

Strangely, during the hottest part of Summer (so far, at least) I find myself in a conversation on Facebook about how to make chai.

My wife and I, during the winter, often keep a pot going for a week or so. (By the end of that time we're sick of chai and switch back to other teas.)

To make a big pot of chai, use two tea balls and a big sauce pot. In one tea ball put plain black tea. In another put whole spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, black pepper, ginger, star anise, and allspice.

Serve with a ladle, filling a mug half-way and then adding milk for the other half.

Change either tea ball as needed.

Printing from Firefox

Firefox 3 by default uses a huge font to print, at least in Ubuntu.

Here is the quick fix. You can adjust the settings to add functionality to the Print Preview screen.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Tink, Tink

Also potentially LCC-related, in California a District Court recently applied Tinker to community colleges.

This might cause waves in very liberal Eugene.

Old Aerial LCC Photos

Nifty!

Conservation of Risk

I recently read an article about how bicycle helmets can increase the chance of having a car hit the bicyclist.

(Note that despite this wearing a helmet decreases your risk of serious injury.)

I was prompted to think of other examples of "conservation of risk", where your own efforts to decrease risk are negated by the actions of others.

An obvious example is freeway speed. It may be safest, in theory, to drive the posted speed limit on curves or in rain. But other cars normally speed, making it best to stay with the flow of traffic.

Safe internet use is another example. I would be quite sad if someone hijacked my Google account, since I have not made a local backup of my gmail in many months. But my password is quite strong: my personal risk is probably "average" through something potentially happening to Google or the LCC computer system.

(As an aside, why doesn't Google provide an automatic "clone copy" of accounts to people who use less than 40% of the potential storage space, so those whose accounts are hijacked can keep going?)

Bicycle trailers for infants are a third example. Since I never cycle on gravel or sand, I have a bicycle seat for Smiley instead of a trailer. A trailer would be safer for him if my bike did fall over, but I judge that risk smaller than a negligent driver hitting the trailer at an intersection.

What are other examples?

One Year Bible

I've been using an online One Year Bible for a while now. This helps me be spending time reading and thinking about scripture.

Through it I do not get exposed to word studies, but do get "character studies" simply by reading the text in order.

I also get reminded of curious things. For example, one day I was reminded that Pesach was not celebrated between the time of the Judges and the reign of Josiah. That sheds an interesting light on how highly God speaks of David and Solomon.

Another day I was reminded that the servants of Nebuchadnezzar cut up most of the gold items in Solomon's Temple. I tend to imagine everything being paraded, intact, to Babylon. That same day also reminded me that the poorest Israelites remained in the land, avoiding the Babylonian Captivity.

Teenage Jobs

Here is news article about the rather obvious phenomenon that higher unemployment makes it more difficult for teenagers to find jobs.

My wife and I are putting together a new list of potential babysitters, since the two we used to use have either gotten busy or moved out of the U.S. A neighbor promised to give us a copy of her list, which is full of recent graduates from the LCC preschool teachers' program who cannot find jobs.

Old School RPGs

I've found two "old school" fantasy RPGs that might interest some people.

The first, Labyrinth Lord, seems to be a blatant copy of second edition D&D. I am not sure how this endeavor avoids lawsuits through nostalgia.

The second, HackMaster Basic, evolved from a comic book about RPGs. Its focus is on combat tactics, which makes it too much a wargame for my tastes. For example, nearly every RPG uses combat "turns" in which the heroes and their opponents each perform one action. Not this game! Instead every action has a specified length of time (in seconds), allowing combatants doing quick things to act more often. Nice for realism, but one more table in which to look up numeric values during combat.

Celiac Research Overview

Scientific American publishes a nice six-page overview of Celiac disease. The article includes some history but focuses on explaining how gluten intolerance happens and the status of several types of research being done towards a cure.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Four Milestones

Yesterday Smiley did four things for the first time.

During the past two weeks Smiley has become much more interested in and adept at mimicry. This has made dancing a social activity for him. Before he would walk around the room, or spin around a little, or clap. Now we clap while we walk forwards and backwards, walk in circles, stomp one foot, or spin around. Yesterday morning, while I was at work, he and mommy danced to music and for the first time he spun so much he became dizzy.

Later in the morning we went to Trader Joe's and the allergist. At places he got stickers to play with. He has played with Post-It Notes at home, so stickers were not a completely foreign idea. He liked putting a sticker on my nose, and it only took a few attempts to learn to hold it so the sticky side would touch my nose.

In the afternoon, he woke from a nap and took off his pants. Fortunately that was all he removed.

In the evening he tried his first popsicle (we made some for him using diluted orange juice) since he is teething four teeth and something cold might have been appreciated. This was not too different from his mesh teether, but he was not very interested.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Tastes Like Spotted Owl

There's an old campfire game where you say one true thing and three false things, and then everyone tries to guess which item is true. This blog post is similar but lacking any attempt to be challenging. ;-) It also won't be funny to anyone but myself. But, hey, it's a personal record of how out-of-touch I am with popular culture.



Most Tuesdays I take Smiley to the library. I've blogged about that here. At the library I first encountered the Moroccan song A Ram Sam Sam. I wondered what its words meant.

I could have known the song from pizza commercials, but I have not owned a television since I was twelve and my braces started receiving the Illuminati channel after I was bitten by a radioactive cable box.

I could have known the song from Scouting, but I have not done scouting since the good old days when Eagle Scouts were still required to actually catch, tame, and eat an eagle.

So I did some internet research and found out it is supposedly a nonsense song. But do we really believe that? Since I've never started a riot, and certain cartoons are no longer causing any uproar, it seems appropriate to use fabrication to start a new meme.

Did you know the song is actually from ancient Moroccan Jewish culture, and translates to "We make better pizza than our Arab neighbors!"

Be sure to tell everyone! I'm not sure about pizza restaurants, but the Boy Scouts can handle the pressure.

Photos Updated

The Picasa album is now up to date. Yay!

I am way behind on editing and posting videos. It happens when family visits. I'll try to get around to those this week, but may not since I have math midterm grading to do.

Three Cute Things

Saturday Smiley did four cute things.

Juggling

Recall that the action of throwing is still fairly new to him. I had not played with the Flying Penguini much since that March blog post, but on Saturday morning they were out again.

I was practicing my two-item juggling. Smiley was practicing his throwing.

After a bit he wanted a second Penguini. So I handed him one of mine. He stood there, one in each hand, looking at them. You could see the gears spinning in his head.

Then he tossed the one in his left hand to the side, passed the one in his right hand to his left hand, and then tossed it to the side also.

Then he looked up at me. "Yay!" I said. He has the basics down.

Skateboard

I have not been using my skateboard much since Smiley started walking. I did not want him to get overly ambitious. For most of the past two months it has been hanging in the gazebo.

But on Saturday he decided to take interest in it again. Since he asked nicely I brought it onto the grass where it would not roll.



He stood on it. Now what?



He often walks along the deck's steps, which are not much wider. Balancing on a stationary skateboard was not a challenge, but he was very proud of himself anyway.



But it would not go! He remembered that I put one foot on the ground when using it.



But that did not help either. He soon lost interest in the skateboard, which is fine with me.

Sliding into a Pool

In the middle of the night, raccoons were using our inflatable pool to wash things. It eventually became a mess of leaky duct tape.



So we got him a new hard-plastic pool.

On Saturday I set up his little back yard slide to go into this new pool. He thought this was great. For about a month he had little interest in his slide. Now he is using it repeatedly and intently.



Notice his mouth is open. When he was first walking he would make an "Ooooh..." noise while doing that new thing. Perhaps it helped him concentrate? Sliding into water was apparently similarly novel.



Hooray!



More balancing.



The pool is nice to play it, too.



Water Slide

Saturday night we went to Splash! in Springfield. What a busy place!

Previously he had only been to Tamarack Pool. That facility only has a swimming pool with a long wheelchair ramp (which also serves as a shallow toddler area).



For kids Splash! has a toddler pool, a slightly deeper pool, a large wave pool, and a water slide. (There is also a hot tub and lap pool for adults only.)

We had purchased a flotation vest for Smiley. It took him about ten minutes to get used to it and stop fussing.



He surprised me by being very fond of the shallow part of the wave pool. Watching waves approach and feeling them knock into him was very entertaining, especially if I was lying on my side behind him to prevent him from being knocked over.

But the best part was the water slide. This was not surprising, since he has loved curly slides since he was eleven months old.



Taking a picture when on the water slide does not show much.



(Yes, we finally used for its intended purpose the waterproof camera bag we had purchased as part of an inexpensive alternative for a baby's MP3 player.)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Computer RPG Desires

Shamus passes along an indie game developer's request for feedback about what makes an enjoyable computer RPG.

My favorite ever was the first Magic Candle. My brother and I, along with two friends, spent a lot of one summer vacation playing that game.

The part of the game I want to focus on was its enormous, sequential, small-block plot.

At the start of the game you were told that a gigantic magic candle, normally maintained and protected by the Good Guys, had been captured by the Bad Guys. Your job was to lead a team of adventurers to recapture and restore it. If it melted before you succeeded (several hundred in-game days), the world would end.

Unfortunately, the "restore it" half of the task was tricky. The folks who made the candle ages ago only wrote two copies of the book describing how to care for the candle. One copy was kept by the candle's guardians and must now be destroyed by the Bad Guys.

Your team needed to get the other copy. By talking to people in the town and castle where your adventure starts, you learn that:
  • The local dwarves are upset because orcs stole their cultural treasure, an ancient hammer. The hammer is currently at the bottom of the nearby dungeon.
  • Those dwarves make hoyam essence, which attracts and soothes magic wild animals. Although they normally never give away or sell any, they would be willing to give some as payment for returning that ancient hammer.
  • The second copy of the book is in a magic vault at the bottom of a second dungeon, not too far away. The vault can only be opened with a special key.
  • In the nearby mountains lives a magic wolf, around whose neck is hung that special key.
So you talk to everyone, conquer one dungeon, give the hammer to the dwarves in exchange for hoyam essence, trek into the mountains and get the key from the wolf, and then conquer the second dungeon.

All of that just to get the instructions for your main quest: gathering the items you need to restore the candle.

Each of those steps took 1 to 5 hours. Quick steps (talking, trading) alternated with longer steps (dungeons, mountains). The focus remained on the end goal: to save the world by restoring the candle.

The resulting pace meant that you always felt like you were making progress on a difficult yet important task, while seeing character growth.

This is what I miss in other computer RPGs I have played. Rouge-likes lack the plot. In MMORPGs the environment does not change, undermiming the plot's sense of progress. Thief II had great game-play but could never be as epic as Magic Candle in either world size, length of task sequence, or character development.

The rest is decoration if the RPG gives me a sense of making progress on a difficult yet important task while seeing character growth. I would not care if the setting was fantasy, science fiction, Old West, etc. I would not care if I led a team of adventurers or a single protagonist. I would not care how character growth was handled.

I would not even care if there were interesting puzzles: for a time I enjoyed the Game Boy Dragon Warrior games as something mindless to do instead of a bedtime story.

Better Skin

I went to a dermatologist last week.

Have you heard the joke about the man who was in a terrible accident and the entire left side of his body had to be amputated? He's all right now.

My problems were minor and laterally opposite. I had two seborrheic keratoses on the right side of my face. One was itchy, so they were frozen off with liquid nitrogen.

I have a small patch of seborrheic dermatitis that comes and goes, on the upper right corner of forehead. It would be dandruff but it is not under any hair. It does not itch, causes no problems, and is hidden by my hair. No treatment necessary. I could use hydrocortisone cream to make it go away but it would eventually come back.

I also had a skin flap on my right side, which annoys my wife because when she gives me backrubs she wants to pick at it. It's now gone.

The itchy keratoses looked potentially scary. But I had no melanoma. Given my family history I should still remain wary.

The Value of Discussing Politics

I'm a Republican because of the junk mail. Humorous, but also completely true. I will explain, then transition to a meatier subject.

My parents registered as Democrat and Republican so their household would get the mail from both parties. Since neither felt well-represented by either party, they used their registered affiliation as help for being informed voters.

Shortly after my wife and I were married, we decided to do the same thing. I happen to be the one registered Republican, and she is the one registered Democrat. (When we lived in New York state this was valuable because that state lacks nice voter's pamphlets! When living in California or Oregon it's less useful.)



Recently an article about how University of Oregon professors are predominantly registered as Democrats has made some news, and found its way to at least one big blog.

Because of my family's habits, I place little meaning in someone's registered party affiliation.

I have also, over the years, have asked a variety of older people from different parts of the country if it is a new trend to label opposing political views as not only incorrect or infeasible, but evil and ignorant. They have unanimously assured me that all generations have shared this shortcoming.

Yet I still sympathize with the author.

Discussing politics should be an important part of a college education, for at least four reasons.

First, politics involves theories about how virtues and people work. These ideas are worth talking about. For example, what amount and type of policies motivate people to be responsible and charitable?

Second, the discussion's participants will reveal how and where they get their information, ideas, and prejudices. Shining a light onto these "source" issues is a significant part of higher education.

Third, in politics discussion's participants may agree upon the background information yet form valid opposing conclusions. This is unlike the sciences, where the data support one conclusion over another. It is also unlike much of deconstructionism, where conclusions are formed (and valued) from insight rather than data. In other words, political "reality" is muddied by human unpredictability, and thus flows from neither logical reasoning nor insightful inspiration. Avoiding political discussions often cultivates a false dichotomy that all intellectual endeavors either have empirical truths or insightful relativism.

Fourth, political discussions require the participants to make simultaneous effort in research (to work through the "source" issues) and caring (to avoid emotional hurdles). This is a valuable life skill which should not be neglected!

Since discussing politics is important in higher education, political diversity is also important.

If your college or university lacked political diversity, could you still learn and grow in the four ways I mentioned above? If so, what topics would replace politics?

Scripts and ShopSafe

My credit card, which gives me miles on my favorite airline, is managed by Bank of America.

The credit card's website has a nice feature nicknamed ShopSafe, where it will generate a "fake" credit card number to use once when doing a purchase online. Thus I do not risk spreading my credit card number around needlessly.

However, notice that the web page is part of www.mbnashopsafe.com, not bankofamerica.com. The javascript link to the ShopSafe page provides no indication that a change of domain name is about to happen.

I use the Firefox addon NoScript, and the first time I tried to use ShopSafe I became very confused. For some strange reason, not allowing scripts for www.mbnashopsafe.com sends the web browser to the "register for an online account" part of the Bank of America website when you try to do anything relating to ShopSafe. Since I had an online account and was actively using it, this puzzled me greatly.

I used ShopSafe for the first time to help a friend by paying her Cricket phone bill. Today I'm using it to renew the car's DMV registration. Enough government computers have been hacked lately that I definitely don't want to give the DMV website my real credit card number!

Monday, July 06, 2009

Celiac is Increasingly Common

Celiac disease is more common now than 50 years ago.

Big and Bigger

I used to know the estimated biomass of ants and worms. Some things slip the mind since college.

Big snakes are cool.

Big ant colonies are cooler.

Southern Style Grilled Sushi

The word sushi means "sour rice". (Raw fish is sushimi.)

Looking to help use up the plethora of chard and beet greens our garden is producing, I have been experimenting with using them instead of dried seaweed for vegetarian sushi.

I make the su (flavored rice) and keep in the fridge.

My current and easy recipe is to blanch the greens for a few seconds to soften them, slice a carrot into matchsticks, and microwave some frozen corn and spinach. (Sometimes I heat the frozen veggies on the grill in aluminum foil.)



Then I fill the leaves.



Then I cook them on the grill (lid closed) for 4 minutes.



The result is very tasty even without a sauce.

Voting Blind

The Waxman-Markey climate bill passed the House without being read by anyone.

If this bothers you, then see how your representative voted.

(In Oregon, "aye" votes were Earl Blumenauer, Kurt Schrader, and David Wu. "Nay" votes were Peter DeFazio and Greg Walden.)

Greg Mankiw thinks the bill has potential but its current form is broken.

Shooting Green

I went to the local shooting range the other day.

I found out that two companies now make lead-free .22 Magnum ammunition. Hooray! Now I do not worry about bringing lead dust into the house or laundry washer.

Of course, these days even fireworks can be environmentally friendly.

Inkscape: Creating Patterns without Grid-Lines

Inkscape is a fun program that makes vector-graphics easy.

I use it to make my RPG maps. Here is an example.

One problem with the normal menus is that when you use menu options to design your own patters the rectangular "tiles" that are created have a thin line separating them, like fine grout lines.

Here is how to fix that.

Purchasing Corruption

It's sort of like Cliff Notes, but also very different.

The King Who Goes Arg

About two weeks ago I had a phone conversation with the relative of a five-year-old girl who had been killed the day before.

One thing this woman said was that she, as a follower of Yeshua who had a Jewish mindset, was handling the situation better than her Protestant relatives. She tried to find the words to explain this, but could not.

I still need to call her for a follow-up phone call. But I have been praying for her, and the family, and also thinking about what she said.

To me, the advantage Jewish followers of Yeshua have is they are more used to picturing God as a frustrated King. Throughout the Tenach he is definitely reigning, but never lounging on his throne with the attitude of "It's good to be King!" Instead, he is frustrated and grieved at humanity's disobedience and their resultant problems. He has all authority but is not content. Although it would not be accurate to say God is in pain, he certainly suffers.

Thus when grieving, when in mourning, or when upset at the world the Jewish follower of Yeshua has a two-fold internalized comfort: God is equally upset at the brokenness of This World, and soon there will be no suffering in the World to Come.

In contrast, most Protestants picture God on his throne primarily as majestic, holy, and splendid. Despite the way the Cross is central to most of their theology, when considering God reigning they avoid seeing him as discontent or suffering. So deep in their heart they easily hear God's assurance that the future will be better but have some trouble receiving God's current empathy.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

The Oldest RPG Clerics

I recently wrote about a blogger who was examining the original D&D rules.

In one of his posts he writes a little about the first clerics. He links to another article.

Apparently, Chainmail was very much a miniatures-based wargame. The teams were Order versus Chaos. The "Fighting Men" did the short-range combat and the "Magic Users" took care of long-range.

Gygax and Arneson stole many ideas and archetypes from fantasy authors. But the concept of "cleric" was all their own. You see, in their early games of the magic users on the Chaos team was a vampire who simply became too powerful. Since game balance needed restoring, the cleric class was invented specifically as a counter against experienced and powerful undead opponents.

Reading this surprised me, but not too much. There are plenty of old fairy tales, legends, and pulp fantasy stories about fighting men and wizards. I cannot think of any involving an priest who goes on adventures with divinely granted powers of healing and banishing undead.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Oozes

I have been working a lot on my RPG. My wife and I mostly play the game while we take Smiley on stroller-walks at the end of the day.

I found an amusing series of blog posts in which someone analyzes the original D&D rules bit by bit.

My game's oozes have been expanded after reading his analysis of the old D&D clean up crew.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Putting Food on Your Skin

Gideon Lack has proposed a theory about why there are more people allergic to peanuts these days: a first exposure to the food in a lotion applied to the skin confuses the body. A related article is here.

In the U.S. there are fewer lotions containing peanut oil than in England, but our lotions can be pretty food-stuffed.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends not using lotions on any baby until at least six months of age, although this is based mostly on phthalates, not foods.

Normally I use Trader Joe's Midsummer Night's Cream. This contains aloe, safflower, avocado, soy, and sage.

My wife recently got me an almond-aloe moisturizer containing sunblock, to use after shaving during the summer. This contains canola oil, aloe, ginseng, tea, licorice, and xanthan gum.

Those are quite a collection of foods!